The distance from the east to the west coast of Zanzibar is about 50 kilometers. However, the ride by bus takes about two hours. It’s a fun drive the first time around because you’re bound to see things you’ve never seen before – like monkeys jumping across the streets, a dense jungle full of the unknown, women carrying water or fruit on their heads while striding down the road just inches from the vehicles, and a traffic culture like no other. I’m not accustomed to driving on the left side of the road so it took me a while to get used to it all. But, you forget all that, once you arrive at your destination and step foot on what is by far the finest white sand I have ever seen in my life!
The sand of the Zanizbar beaches is literally the consistency of flour!
It’s white and soft and very fine, and when it mixes with the water it turns into dough. Our group had a sandball fight the minute we hit the beach! It actually took me some time to get comfortable with the squishy feeling under my toes. The water is warm like a bath with the occasional colder currant, and is less salty than the Mediterranean Sea or the Pacific Ocean, but tends to be colder and saltier the further north you go. Most importantly though, the ocean is CLEAN and clear and the water is a beautiful turqoise blue! Needless to say, snorkeling is suggested EVERYWHERE because the water is so clean and there is so much to be seen under its surface from corals to fish and starfish and things I still haven’t figured out names for.
One of the best beaches I had the chance to see was on Prison Island. This is also the home of the large tortoise park and you can arrange for a tour to this little island from pretty much anywhere on the island. This tiny little isle off the coast of Zanzibar is incredible because it’s small and in the middle of the ocean. The beach is small and technically intended just for access to the tortoise park but the water is crystal clear and swimming here is an absolute must.
If you’re looking for luxury, the resorts on the northern shores of Zanzibar are where you should look for accommodation. Nungwi and Kendwa offer not only high-class service and upscale lodging, but also beaches without tide changes which means you’ll be able to enjoy the clear, warm waters of the Indian Ocean all day long. These two locations are the most touristically developed, offer water sports, and have everything you need in one place.
For the rest of us who want an adventure in the wilderness of the jungle and a less glamorous experience – the villages on the east coast are guaranteed to blow your mind.
I stayed in the village of Bwejuu in a bungalow made of corals and mud, just a few feet from the beach and yet in the midst of palm trees and aloe vera plants. Bwejuu is located on the southern east coast of the island and is completely wild and undeveloped. The tide changes twice during the day so it’s good to take a walk to the next village over, Paje, which is south of Bwejuu and the best place to go kite-surfing on the island. Paje is also the home of several cafes which offer parties by night and swimming pools by day so you can cool off when the tide is low and the ocean is nowhere near.
Wherever you decide to stay on this island, you’re sure to have an amazing time. The people are very laid back and live the Hakuna Matata (no worries) lifestyle, which is nothing less than relaxing for those of us trying to get away from our chaotic lifestyles for a while. There’s really no worries while you’re there, except for the occasional medusa if you get a chance to make it out to the deeper parts of the ocean.
So, why Zanzibar? Well…I came for the beaches and wilderness…but I got a whole lot more than I ever expected. I left Zanzibar as a completely different person. I grew. I connected. I was enlightened. I bonded with insects for the first time in my life, and I never thought that would be possible. I slowed down and stopped rushing through life. Zanzibar is a perfect place to visit if you live in the city because it will reconnect you with nature, slowly but surely, in a setting that is so beautiful I can only image it’s what heaven must look like.